Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

New Answers for Hawai’i

Do you want to know what the Summit this week is really about?  The Summit is for participants to learn about new ideas but also, and more importantly, for them to generate new ideas.  Why is this important, and why is the Summit the best place for this?  Because Hawai‘i is in need of a host of new answers to the large, interrelated issues that define our shared futures.  We need change, and ideas of what to change into, in terms of our collective culture and identity, our technological systems that make modern life possible, and our economy.

These issues, and the many more we could lay on the table, are all related.  You cannot think to address one without having unknown effects on the others, or without having to also consider those others.  Dealing with this requires an occasional broad view, to occasionally rise up and consider the entire forest rather than the single tree.  The leaders at the Summit this week are, thanks to the tools and processes of professional futurists, going to get to deal with this big picture in a meaningful way.  Frankly, the Summit is the only event in Hawai‘i (designed and facilitated by trained professional futurists) that provides leaders in Hawaii with a structured method for addressing the big picture of our futures.

Engaging in this larger context not only helps us generate ideas for all of Hawai‘i, it manifestly helps decision-makers and organizational leaders understand the broader and longer-range context for the challenges and the potential opportunities that they are endeavoring to address within their own organizations.  If we only ever focus on our immediate surroundings, then we miss the larger patterns of change that are making our work more or less valuable.

What’s very important for Hawai‘i is the opportunity for our people to have the tools and the space they need to create new ideas, to literally map out specific new ideas and examine the changes that are needed, and the specific strategies that can influence that change.  Hawai‘i needs to get better at its own intellectual innovation, its ability to synthesize new ideas and approaches that are inspired by developments elsewhere but are uniquely tailored to move us from Today to the Future That We Want.  And we’re not talking simply about ‘policy options,’ the kinds of things typically debated in the newspaper or down at the leg.  We’re talking about seeing entirely new possibilities of what Hawai‘i could become, culturally, technologically, and economically.  Hawai‘i has always lacked for the kind of structured experience leaders need in order to actually work together on generating these new ideas, and the Summit is designed for that.

Hawai‘i needs new answers for the host of issues shaping its futures.  In order to generate these truly innovative answers, Hawai‘i needs a better understanding of the full range of possibilities that are emerging around the world, and it needs the tools and the space to take those possibilities and turn them into real opportunities to shape a better future for us all.

Hawai’i Futures Summit 2008


Filed under: Change, Hawai'i, Summit

4-Day Work Week Mistake?

In recent months cities and states across the country have been debating and experimenting with the four day work week.  It has even hit the federal scene, with congressmen calling for a four day week in DC.  And in almost every case the driving concern has been the reduction of car fuel savings and energy costs for the employer.  And of course Hawaii is half-way through it’s state experiment and responses seem positive.  But will this response to a ‘crisis’ set in motion more difficult strategic challenges in the years ahead?

The idea of the work week has been under criticism for some time; it is, after all, an arbitrary construct.  For most of human history, most people engaged in the work of living pretty much every day.  Long before there were farms or agriculture, humans had an amount of socialization and ‘leisure’ time that many of us would envy.  It’s partly to the Judeo-Christian worldview that we see the week as having days that should be without work (and thus, if we have to make our numbers, we’re supposed to cram them into our ‘work’ days).  And it’s to the mechanization and drive for cost-reduction created by the industrial revolution and mass production that we owe the time card and the concept that your hour has a certain dollar value.

But an interesting new book by cognitive scientist John Medina, Brain Rules, points out a host of provocative new findings about how the human brain works and how our modern approaches to education and work often run counter to the most effective lifestyles for our delicate and wondrous brains.  Did you know that 10% of people truly think and work best early in the day, being very early to bed and early to rise?  Or that 20% of people are truly better late at night and seldom get to bed before 3 am?  A full 30% of our citizens are literally not wired to do well in the standard 9 – 5 routine, yet we have in recent decades required everyone to confirm, with measurable losses in mental abilities, focus, and productivity.

We’re not designed, mentally or physically to sit at a desk for 8 hours, much less 10, yet that is the kind of routine with which we’re experimenting.  It is certainly too early to judge the long-term effects of extending the work day, and the ‘solution’ is really intended to address energy costs.  But once we open up this issue, it’s an opportunity for us to consider broader or additional changes in the construct of the work week.  For instance, in the short term, with our current dependence on fossil fuels to generate the energy we use to get to and from work and to light up the work place, reducing the number of days while lengthening them seems prudent.  But in the longer-term, as renewable and alternative sources of energy come online, the energy issues change, and we will want to keep in mind alternatives that increase overall happiness and productivity in even more fundamental ways.

If anyone has any good sources on scientific studies of alternative work schedules, we would love to hear about them.


Filed under: Biology, Business, Economics, Energy, Hawai'i, Transportation

Democracy in Moderation

An article posted today took a brief look at how Encyclopedia Britannica, that old quick-reference guide to world knowledge that we all relied on back in the day, is slowly modernizing itself.  And this means: how is it coming to grips with Wikipedia and the big trend in ‘collaborative’ sites and services (think blogs, wikis, and commentaries for everything) where the people at large contribute, edit, and argue.  Britannica is moving to some wiki platforms, but they have decided to maintain the key role of the expert in the production of their branded information.

This kicked off two things for us: 1) how this fits into the trends in information production and publishing; and 2) how this relates to the contemporary seizure with all things bottom-up

Publishing: A recent NY Magazine article looked at the changes in the massive book publishing industry, from the gradual change in publishers from small and artfully-run to the massive corporate media empires that are hit-driven just like Hollywood.  It mentioned Amazon.com and the Kindle, it’s e-reader, and the fears that physical publishers have about Amazon’s future ability to be the Microsoft of book publishing.  At the same time that e-readers continue to try to make inroads into our reading habits, web-based self-publishing and print-on-demand services have been expanding for everyday folks.  And then the blogs…

Certainly it’s clear that the technology is changing so that everyday folks have access to publishing their own thoughts, news, and stories.  Everyone can yammer away into the void with their own blogs, and they can pay to have their work printed (just like the old vanity press), but what’s the real impact to the idea of information, about what’s news-worthy and thus read-worthy?  What is the role of the expert in selecting ‘quality’ material?  And especially important as everyone begins to panic about the economy: what writing should we pay for?  When do we care about vetted material enough to pay for it, and when does instant gratification drive us to be satisfied with writing that might lack for quality or accuracy?

We also have to wonder about the potential for the Long Tail-type theories of business opportunities.  While Hawaii likes to argue over massive state programs to promote targeted economic growth in major industry clusters (one can hear the visitor industry growling in the background), there is probably a lot more that could be done at a much lower level of cost to promote the types of niche micro-businesses that the Long Tail suggests, which for Hawaii could very well include the evolution of new writing and publishing models.  Like most side-businesses, all it takes is to link up people’s passions with a little extra income to make a difference in their economic lives.

Bottom-Up: And then there’s the bottom-up issue.  It’s all the rage today to disparage the expert, the official, and anything that smacks of top-down.  Collaborative software like wikis and blogs and social network technologies allow us to connect to each other and share and contribute without any of the types of social, economic, or political structures we’ve lived under throughout recorded history.  Everywhere people conflate this with democracy and hail a new age in which the ‘community’ (a word which no longer means the neighborhood but a collective of people), the grass-roots, the crowd trump any other process or authority.

But down through history thinkers and philosophers have made a distinction between the People (arranged in a deliberative process) and the Mob (simply a mass of individuals).  What’s important is the question: when is ‘the community’ the right process, and when are experts required to lead and produce?  Even the Athenians, those symbols of democracy, understood that sometimes the individual was needed to make a decision instead of the multitude.

And when we come back to the issues of publishing, writing, and sharing, the collaborative tools and the social networking technologies force us to contemplate changes in what we define as ‘news’ and as valid information.  When ‘the people’ are able to connect with one another, and if they are left to their own devices (as opposed to the interests of mass media that has traditionally defined and pumped the news to people), what do they define as news, and what are they actually interested in learning about and reading about?

As any review of services like Twitter indicate, what’s important news to people is often stuff that mass media can’t replicate: what’s going on with my friends, family, and colleagues?  When taken from the perspective of the individual, important news and information is nuanced into much more personal spheres than the nightly news or newspapers can address.  So, what new balance might emerge from the tension between the expert and the community in defining, producing, and ultimately selling news and information?

Filed under: Business, Culture, Democracy, Economics, Governance, Hawai'i

Rail Rantings

When we catch the headlines about the rail debate (when we can see past the happily panicked headlines about the economy that the media generates), we get the sense that, like in most emotionally charged issues, a bigger picture or context is being lost.  Some people want it to ease traffic, some want it because it will reduce dependence on oil, and others oppose it because it will cost them money for little personal benefit, or they worry about the disruptive impacts, or maybe they don’t like the mayor.

But we have a very challenging situation (and not just us in Hawai’i [we just feel more threatened], most of modern society) that we need to begin to seriously address: the built environment that we grew up with was designed without any sense of the long-term consequences, some of which we are now experiencing: pollution, traffic, energy dependence, sprawl, loss of ‘community’ and social capital, etc…

  • We created the car (the horseless carriage) and figured out how to make bazillions of them
  • The internal combustion engine won out as the basic technology, with cheap oil for fuel
  • We started building cities and towns around the car and its roads, rather than around people
  • We figured out how to create financial mechanisms so that everyone could ‘afford’ multiple cars
  • And cars came to symbolism freedom and independence and have come to be seen as a right of passage into adulthood

So, most of the world we know, and parts of our identity and sense of empowerment come from this history.  If you tried suggesting that people need to give up their cars, you’d be ignored almost out of hand.  Not just because it represents personal freedom but also because they would have an extremely difficult time getting to all of the things they need to get to in one day.  Yet it seems very clear that if we are to achieve the kind of sustainable world and enjoyable lifestyles that we all say that we want, then we do need to seriously and critically examine alternatives and opportunities for transportation systems and communities in Hawai’i.  Rail is certainly one possibility, but even if it’s not the one we ultimately go with, we have to continue to make very serious (and not necessarily costly) changes to our transportation behavior and options.  The context is much bigger than the mayoral debates might focus on, and the stakes ultimately are much higher for the next 20 years of Hawai’i’s future.

Not incidentally, we will be exploring options and alternatives for our transportation and mobility at our annual Hawai’i Futures Summit this October 3 and 4.  Check it out and join us.

Filed under: Built Environment, Hawai'i, Sustainability, Transportation

What are Scenarios?

Scenarios are stories about the future.  But, they are not predictions.  Rather, they describe possible futures that we might experience.  They are explorations of the different ways in which the world could change, providing us an opportunity to examine how our lives and our businesses might be different.  But there are some important differences between scenarios and other kinds of ‘stories’:  scenarios are informed by foresight; they come in sets, not singles; and their greatest value comes from creating them, not reading them.

From a futures perspective, foresight is having insight into the challenges and opportunities the future may offer.  Put another way, it is having insight into how things may change.  Good foresight requires some understanding of change, broad exposure to possibilities, and a healthy dose of creativity.

Good foresight first requires some explicit understanding of and exploration into how and why things change.  Whether we are talking about a local community, a corporation, or a regional economy, we are always relying on some set of assumptions about how things work, how they change.  These are the mental models that we use in part to make our decisions.  There are, of course, an infinite number of models about how the world works, how different things in life change.  Each of us has our own unique model (based on our unique learning and life experience) and researchers in most fields have produced a variety of formal models to explain change.  Regardless of which model you choose, knowing your model, and being familiar with the models of others, is the first step in developing foresight.

Foresight also requires broad exposure to possibilities.  The technological development occurring today, in fields as diverse as renewable energy, fabrication technology, and cognitive science, is almost overwhelming.  Global connectivity intensifies this, enabling us to share ideas, learn from each other, and create unanticipated combinations of new technologies and practices.  The potential for disruptive technical and social changes, arising out of areas that have nothing directly to do with us, is increasing every day.  By continuously exposing us to these changes, foresight enables us to continually refine our notion of the possible.  Good foresight allows us to take advantage of the full range of possibilities that lie before us.

Good foresight also requires a dose of creative thinking.  The future is unwritten, which means that the trends you’ve been monitoring do not (and cannot) predict what will happen tomorrow.  This also means that you have a hand in writing the future.  Your choices interact with the choices of others and with the changes already in motion.  A little ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, like seeing novel combinations or untried approaches, often allows us to create opportunities.  Foresight is also about seeing how the future can be shaped to a better end.

More on this later.

Filed under: foresight, futures, scenarios

Paper from Not-Trees

Scan: WorldChanging.org had a recent article on Canada trying out wheat pulp to produce paper rather than from the more traditional trees.  These are exciting types of experiments and innovations: striving for an indefinitely maintainable lifestyle that doesn’t simultaneously ask us to go back to a pre-industrial society.

Thoughts: I think the importance of these types of experiments, just like trying to use corn to make biodegradable plastics, are that they hint at the broader array of strategies that we have to begin to invest in.  In terms of making change, at least the kinds of dramatic and systemic changes that many people are hoping for, it is unlikely to come from a single strategic thrust, like grass-roots ‘do-your-part’ movements.  Getting everyone to use CFLs makes everyone feel good, but it doesn’t in any way alter the system: how electricity is generated, how houses and light bulbs are manufactured and distributed across the planet, or how we work at ‘jobs’ to make ‘money’ to ‘buy’ these things at ‘stores,’ to which we drive on asphalt surface roads in ‘cars.’

An array of strategies, each aimed at a different leverage point, is important.  Attention and resources have to be drawn to investing in the next set of technologies that will undergird a 21st century lifestyle, and these technologies come from more than just energy: they certainly have to include things like paper, plastics, and electronics.  So, our question comes to: what are the array of strategies that Hawaii as a collective can employ to effect the kinds of changes so many seem to want?  What (realistic) roles can Hawaii imagine for itself within the national and global drive towards a different economy and a different impact on the planet?

Filed under: Hawai'i, Sustainability, Technology

Hawai’i: the Reboot

2 days. 200 innovators. A new future for Hawai'i.

The Hawai'i Futures Summit 2009 October 16 and 17, 2009


Vision Foresight Strategy

We work with organizations to anticipate strategic change and to craft the strategies that will shape their desired futures.

To learn more about how we can help you, visit www.kikilo.biz


Summit Net is the network for people who are concerned with the big picture, rule-changing possibilities for Hawai'i's futures.
Visit Hawai'i Futures Summit Network